Fact and fiction in regards to Strat trem stability

Discussion in 'Tech-Talk' started by Antigua, Apr 20, 2020.

  1. Antigua

    Antigua Senior Stratmaster

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    One thing I've learned about the guitar world is that it's not scientifically rigorous. If somethings got mojo, it's got mojo - a sufficient amount has been stated. So the very fact that the complicated Floyd Rose tremolo system exists doesn't tell me that such an elaborate setup is necessarily required. I don't know much about how that product came into existence, I just know that someone makes money selling them now.

    Having messed with Strat trems for a long time and not wanting to suffer a Floyd Rose setup, I've given a lot of thought to were the weak points are with tuning stability, and all said and done, I feel that the nut is the only place where a significant problem can occur, and it's also the one spot where problems are most likely to occur.

    To point #1, that the nut is where problems can occur, there is a fair amount of guitar string on the back side of the nut, between the nut and the tuning posts, which means there's a large potential for hysteresis, where tension is shifted from one side of the nut to the other during a dive bomb, but that tension doesn't return to what it was when the tremolo arm is let up, and so the change in tension on either side of the nut results in a new pitch than what you started with. In Joe Walsh's famous youtube video, he talks about pulling on the strings when tuning them, that's intended to address that same hysteresis. The way to reduce the problem is to reduce friction at the nut, through any number of means.

    But the Floyd Rose, and a lot of other post 50's hardware, such as the two post trem and the anti-knife edge design are intended to deal with tuning stability also. But what's the point? Even with the classic six screw knife edge bridge, I don't see potential for the bridge to start out in one position before the dive bomb, and end up in another afterwards, such that the tension would be different before and after. Another solution at the bridge end is graphite saddles, but the strings merely rock over the top of the saddles, they don't slide along the tops of the saddle, as happens at the nut (or as would happen with a Bigsby trem and a non-roller bridge). I don't think it's even possible to dive bomb a trem to a point where the strings are so loose that they come to rest at a different location along a flat topped saddle. Besides that, a lot of modern Strat saddles are channeled, so that the string can't shift left or right anyhow.

    Another bunch of solutions that are sold involve the tuning posts, but personally I've never had tuning troubles with any tuners, not Klusens, nor the cheapos that come on $100 gutiars. The gearing appears to be such that the tuner is immobile. For example, when you pull on the guitar strings really hard, the gutiar string breaks long before the tuning key ever moves even slightly, on tuning heads of any price point. I believe that the reason reissue Strats and lower priced models with vintage style hardware are still such a hot seller to this day, is because the machine tuners and two point trem of the modern higher priced Strats don't bring much if any benefit to the table.

    To point #2, that the bridge should be a place where problems occur, one real problem I've dealt with forever is that almost all new electrics these days seem to come with light "9 gauge" strings, that the nuts are lazily cut as a straight down slot sized specifically for the nines. I do a little test, I pull up in the string just to see if it will easily lift away from the slot it sits in, and often times the strings hang up in the slot, especially the wound strings, and often with the stock strings the guitar came with. It seems very obvious to me that there will be hysteresis issues if the guitars string is sticking in the slot when I try lifting it out. It's incredible that so many guitars you take out of the box brand new, essentially have defective nut slots, even for the strings they're cut for. If you bump up to 10's or 11's, the problem gets that much worse.

    But once you identify that the nut slots are cut badly, it's not easy to remedy. For one thing, a set of purpose files costs like $90 (btw none of these Amazon links are upsell links, it just happens to be where I shop online)
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DQJOVRU/?tag=strattalk05-20
    , and for another, if you're not careful, you will cut the slot too deep and the string will buzz on the first fret and that action will feel strange. I own a set of nut files, and my current process is to only file at an angle so that the slot doesnt get any deeper. You can also mark the slot with a graphite pencil so that if you nick it, you can tell, and the graphite itself is a perfect nut lubricant anyway. The dust created by filing at the edges probably works as a decent lubricant for the plain strings, at least. Once the string doesn't hang up in the slot, I consider the job done. But it's an expensive tool and it's a slightly tricky operation. It's also good to slightly file away the back edge of the nut, to create a softer break angle for the string.

    So the Floyd Rose system comes with a whole nastly bridge assembly, but I think it's really the locking nut or the rolling nut that comes with them, that does 99% of work.

    Even though the nut might be the major source of the problem, I think guitarists really like bone nuts, and the locking heck nut of the Floyd Rose is seen as a major inconvenience, and the rolling nut
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0002KZEB8/?tag=strattalk05-20
    is diffucult to add after the fact for a number of reasons, 1) the nut slot might have to be cut wider, 2) the radius might be wrong, 3) the width of the roller nut has to match that of the neck. Some of the other aftermarket roller nuts would require you to put holes in the head stock
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZDFP6LS/?tag=strattalk05-20

    IMO, a well cut nut with a lubricant is probably sufficient in lieu or locking or roller nuts. I trust nicer bone / fake bone ones more than the really crappy plastic nuts of Squiers, but I think either works well if set up to prevent string hysteresis.

    BTW, I see "Big Bend's Nut Sauce" promoted often, and it's a logical fix if a person believes that friction at the nut is the major issue, but I've heard, and it looks to my eye, like it's nothing more than teflon grease, which you can get in larger quanities for a lot cheaper, and without having to buy "nut sauce" and still live with yourself
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002L5UL92/?tag=strattalk05-20
    This one in particular has a fine point tip that is perfect for lubriating nut slots. You can also buy the graphite powder that's often used for pinewood derby cars, or just use a pencil. Sometimes I'll use both of them together. Enough to last ten lifetimes of each costs less than $20.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2020
  2. Triple Jim

    Triple Jim Guy Who Likes to Play Guitar Silver Member

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    Interesting points. The nuts made/sold by Graphtech as "TUSQ XL" seem to be Delrin AF, which is Teflon filled Delrin. It's slippery enough that it doesn't need any lubricant to reduce the hysteresis close enough to zero that I don't notice it.
     
  3. scooteraz

    scooteraz Senior Stratmaster

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    All valid points.

    Mostly, I don’t notice the tuning instability. But then I don’t normally use the trem that hard (mostly preferring more subtle wobbles). But then, I tend to keep my strings fresh, and the contact points lubricated. So, bends and wobbles don’t seem to upset my tuning so much. When the guitar gets tough to tune, I change strings and make sure the sliding contact points are lubed.
     
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  4. Antigua

    Antigua Senior Stratmaster

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    Having the whole nut made of a graphite sounds like a no brainer since graphite is used in combination with regular nuts, but having to cut or fit or resize nuts is one the activities I have most when it comes to guitar repair, so I'd go the extra mile just to avoid it.

    It would be nice if a company invented drop-in roller replacements, like the ball bearing version that Fender offers, but without requiring a wider nut slot to be cut into the neck.
     
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  5. Antigua

    Antigua Senior Stratmaster

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    Same here, it's not just tremolo action either, but it makes ordinary guitar tuning much easier. The plastic nut that came with my Squier was terrible, I don't think Fender even realizes how they're screwing their own market potential by making Squiers so poorly. Someone buys a Squier as a starter guitar, frustration with keeping it in tune could very easily be a reason for someone to give it up all together. The cheap pickups they put in those guitars are needlessly inferior too.
     
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  6. crazyrachey96

    crazyrachey96 Strat-O-Master

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    Honestly, I had graphtech and was lubing the hell out of it and was STILL having issues. I just put a roller nut on and it completely solved the problem. I have a Vega unit which has much more range than a Strat six screw, and with the roller nut I can't knock it out of tune. Given that I can't think of any reason to not use a roller nut. They should have become standard equipment decades ago.
     
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  7. Triple Jim

    Triple Jim Guy Who Likes to Play Guitar Silver Member

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    I'm not sure what you mean. Delrin AF has no graphite in it. It's Delrin (acetal) with Teflon mixed in.
     
  8. Antigua

    Antigua Senior Stratmaster

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    I just mean a whole nut made of the lubricating agent itself.

    Maybe they could make something like a teflon or graphite paint, then the paint could be applied to the slots.
     
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  9. Antigua

    Antigua Senior Stratmaster

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    That's good info. I put a Graphtech on an Epi Les Paul with tuning problems like you wouldn't believe, it didn't solve the problem either, but the thing was I hated that guitar so much anyway that I gave up on it quickly. I think the knife-like edges of the Tune-O-Matic bridges are probably much worse for string hang-up than the softer arch of Fender's stamped steel saddles, and the low cost Epiphone probably used especially cheap pot metal for those bridge parts (and maybe the Gibsons do too) which the steel guitar strings will chew up. I wasn't about to put an aftermarket bridge on that piece of garbage.
     
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  10. Belexes

    Belexes Strat-O-Master

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    Also keeping the number of string wraps on the tuner posts at a minimum will help?
     
  11. scooteraz

    scooteraz Senior Stratmaster

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    That’s a good point about the Squirers. How much would the price point change with a better material nut? OTOH, for a price point guitar, where do you stop with the upgrades?
     
  12. Antigua

    Antigua Senior Stratmaster

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    I'm sure it does, because more slack means more potential for it to return to tension in a slightly different position than from which it left. So, not only keeping it short, but also neat and not overlapping with itself.
     
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  13. Antigua

    Antigua Senior Stratmaster

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    They just need to cut the slots wider. The hang-up on one I bought a few months ago was unbelievably bad. They could cut all the slots twice the width of they should be, that would still be an improvement. The cuts also had not angle to them, but that could be overlooked. IMO this isn't an upgrade, we're into the subject of what is or isn't a competently made instrument. It's gone overlooked because it's a non obvious defect, and it's not easy to fix at home.
     
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  14. Triple Jim

    Triple Jim Guy Who Likes to Play Guitar Silver Member

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  15. jvin248

    jvin248 Senior Stratmaster

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    .

    "One thing I've learned about the guitar world is that it's not scientifically rigorous" .. LOL. that's an understatement. And the non-scientific conclusions are defended with such passion!

    +1 "99% of the work" is done at the nut by making it locking. Last fall someone had a string locking device in a thread that goes on the headstock side of a standard nut and fixes that movement problem without a lot of retrofit damage to the guitar.

    The Wilkinson locking saddles (on a Pete Thorn video) solve the saddle slip concern at the bridge quite elegantly.

    Roller nuts get corrosion and debris in them and then they grip and drag.

    Graphite and PTFE/Teflon impregnated nuts tend to be so soft that strings dig in, especially the wound strings, so that they are actually geared into place and ratchet across the lumps when diving the trem. Better to use something a lot harder.

    Grease added at the contact points attract dirt and grime such that they increase the drag pretty quickly. Best option is dry graphite lock lube.

    Fender 6-bolt trems have flat holes against the body mount screws and can tip and slip unpredictably and why the knife edge of some trem designs came about. Floyd Rose has a knife edge and so does Brian May's Red Special that he built with his father years before the Floyd Rose. Modern Fender two point trems use this knife edge idea.

    Look up the Frudua youtube video series on setting up a Strat and the Strat's bridge for floating trems and he may have a few hints. Been a while since I watched those but he did a good job. I mostly block and deck my trems these days because they are so distracting to my other playing. I'm either going out of tune and then trying to find the root cause or trying to see how much dive bombing I can do before the guitar goes out of tune and then need to fix it. Just so much potential for distraction.

    .
     
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  16. Olly White

    Olly White Strat-Talker Silver Member

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    Great points! Agree the nut is where it's at (mostly).

    Disclaimer: I deck my strats so have no whammy tuning problems, but take pains to try and get the nut right, though.

    My method for cutting nuts is to work on the theory that the less nut the strings are in contact with the better, so file in plenty of fall away behind the initial all-important point of contact.

    nut.jpg

    Hmmm, looking in close up there's a little more could come off the back...:whistling:

    As for string slot depth, two concerns: one; that they are the right depth for fret clearance, and two; that the top of the nut is brought down so that the strings aren't trapped in steep-sided canyons, but sit up high and slightly protruding. This is particularly important for the high, unwound strings that will otherwise 'sitar' or sound a little muffled if trapped in the nut.

    The B string above is a good example - the top of it is just visible above the nut. The G string not so much, but I gently ran a small triangular file across the top of the slot to open it up without touching the bottom of the slot. If you can look down on the nut and clearly see the full width of the higher strings across the nut then they're unlikely to get pinched.

    nut2.jpg

    This is all predicated on having nut slot files, of course.

    For the slot depths i do the 'fret at the third fret and see how much string clearance there is over the 1st fret' to get an idea of how far they need to come down, and then file away until the 3rd fretted note is bang in tune, then check to see the tuning across the strings on the 1st and 2nd frets, giving a few gentle swipes with the nut file where required to have them in tune. In the end the strings sitting in the nut more or less follow the fretboard radius, with maybe the low E and A a little higher.

    nut3.jpg

    This method works for me. I love cutting nuts so much that I think the guitar building is only there to provide the opportunity.....
     
  17. fezz parka

    fezz parka fezz parka

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    Now...I don't normally do big dives, but I do use the wiggle stick quite a bit. I kinda beat the crap out of it..




    For me...A well cut nut, proper wraps on the posts, clean saddles and string path... a trad six screw bridge ( adjusted properly with the four inner screws higher than the outside screws) should stay in the ballpark without needing lube or any other improvements.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2020
  18. Andrew Wasson

    Andrew Wasson Senior Stratmaster

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    I’m of the same opinion that tuning stability on floating bridge guitars is 99% due to strings hanging on the nut. I’ve got a set of cheap files Ron Kirn recommended on TDPRI (IIRC). My Strats all have bone nuts. They’re set for fully floating. Two vintage 6 screw and one modern 2 point. With the nuts filed correctly and lubed (I use coconut oil) they are as stable as my telecaster and remain in tune indefinitely. The 2 point is easily a smoother machine than the vintage but tuning stability wise, they’re equal.

    I like Tusq nuts from Graphtech. I’ve put them on several guitars. I’ve got no complaints. I’ll be installing one on my black Strat soon enough (unless I go roller) and I might put one on my JBass as it’s bone nut has developed a crack.
     
  19. americanstrat98

    americanstrat98 Strat-Talker

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    Thanks for sharing.
     
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  20. longboard blues

    longboard blues Senior Stratmaster

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    and don't be tempted by a $20 set from China - sized with an accuracy of +/- 200%.
     
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